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It’s been eight years since Ghostface tormented horror fans and poor girls stuck home alone in Scream 3. Although completely unrelated, The Strangers features an antagonist that resembles a poor man’s Ghostface and has an appropriately reduced terror quality about him. While the original Scream’s opening scene with Drew Barrymore made me want to lock the door before the movie moved any farther, The Strangers barely even motivates me to glance and see if my deadbolts are in place.
The premise of The Strangers sounds tired in a world already laden with movies like Hostel and High Tension. Despite that, I wanted to give the movie a fair shake due to the cast, which features Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman. Well, maybe not so much for Speedman, who continues to leave me thoroughly unimpressed. Here he barely manages to have any chemistry with his leading actress, despite being cast opposite everyone’s favorite Lord of the Rings elven princess, but that’s okay. The script actually demands the two have an awkward relationship since we join them shortly after he’s proposed… and been turned down.
If joining the uncomfortable couple is where the movie started, the story might have managed a bit more suspense. Unfortunately it’s bogged down with an introductory narration that tells the audience how the movie is inspired by real events, but that there’s no way of knowing what brutal events actually transpired the night unknown assailants broke into the home where James Hoyt (Speedman) and Kristen McKay (Tyler) were staying. By giving me that information in the first minute of the film, the rest of the movie was pretty well spoiled of any dramatic tension for me. You see, there has to be a reason why nobody truly knows what events took place. I won’t spell it out it in case you can’t piece it together on your own, but that introduction kept me from getting too invested in any of the characters.
James and Kristen spend the first third of the movie dealing with their own awkwardness, caused by Kristen rejecting James’s marriage proposal. Some may see some character development in that. I say if you’re going to have a movie about strangers breaking in and tormenting a couple, bring on the damn strangers quicker than this movie does. Instead we get a prolonged introduction that makes the movie feel like it has the plot of a short film stretched into a feature length picture. People were snoozing before the action even started – at least, those who could fall asleep through the horrible dialogue. Speedman doesn’t do wonders for his character, but listening to the lines, it’s not like he had a lot to work with in the first place. Tyler’s lines aren’t much better, but at least she makes a convincing scared person through a lot of the film. Unfortunately, even that wears off by the time the picture hits its climax.
I will commend The Strangers for two things. First, it sticks to the premise that the invaders who harass the main characters are indeed strangers; just some sickos whose only justification for their actions when pressed by Kristen are because (as the advertisements state), “you were home.” I fully expected some ridiculous rationalization tacked on just for the sake of explaining everything and it was nice not to have it. Sometimes events like this are more terrifying by underplaying them and leaving the “answers” to the audience’s imagination.
Secondly, the movie doesn’t attempt to join the all-so-popular “torture porn” subgenre. The bulk of the action in The Strangers (once it gets going) is simple cat-and-mouse style suspense with very little emphasis on any kind of gore. Unfortunately it’s done with such a distinguished pattern that anyone who has seen more than one of these kinds of movies will easily recognize and predict what’s going to happen through most of the picture. There’s a few times the story avoids the completely clichéd twists I expected through my predictions, although that would appear to be more because of a lack of creativity than anything else. The story is simple; too simple in fact, and the audience might find themselves entertained by their own plot ideas instead of what’s actually happening on the screen.
The Strangers may have played better as a short, fifteen to twenty minute picture. Instead its simple plot is drawn out for far too long and played by actors who either can’t handle the material or appear bored with it by the time the credits roll. While I’m glad to see first time writer/director Bryan Bertino avoid some decisions that would have produced a completely different movie than what was advertised, there just isn’t anything of interest here. The movie never invests the audience enough in the characters and plays so predictably that it’s hard to have much suspense in this so-called thriller.